by Lita Cosner

There are a lot of charges brought up against the God of the Bible; perhaps one of the most common is, “If God is supposed to be loving, how could He send people to Hell just because they didn’t worship Him?” It’s implied that it’s deeply unjust for God to judge sin at all, and even worse to do so by sending the sinners to a place of eternal punishment. However, these critics often profess they don’t believe in the God they are accusing, and also deny any objective standard of right and wrong anyway. Sometimes believers also struggle with this question, wondering how God could condemn someone who never heard of Jesus and so never had a chance to believe in Him, for example.

The question of Hell is not an appealing one even for people who affirm its existence. No one likes the idea of many people suffering judgment in the life to come. But the ‘Good News’ of the Gospel requires that there be ‘Bad News’—salvation in Jesus Christ would not bring glory to God if there were actually nothing to be saved from. So it’s important to be able to give an answer, even in the case of a subject that no one particularly likes contemplating.

Who goes to Hell?

When unbelieving critics talk about Hell, they sometimes speak like it will be full of innocent people (like themselves!). However, the Bible doesn’t indicate that innocent people will spend a single moment in Hell. Rather, Hell is God’s answer to the fundamental injustice of this life. There are many murderers, rapists, and other people who wreak havoc in the lives of others, who never experience judgment in this life. Everyone knows that it is wrong that these people never be brought to account for what they’ve done; something in the human heart demands justice. And Hell is God’s answer.

Randy Alcorn writes:

Without Hell, justice would never overtake the unrepentant tyrants responsible for murdering millions. Perpetrators of evil throughout the ages would get away with murder—and rape, and torture, and every evil.

Even if we may acknowledge Hell as a necessary and just punishment for evildoers, however, we rarely see ourselves as worthy of Hell. After all, we are not Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Bundy, or Dahmer.

God responds, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12).1

For the majority of people who are not guilty on the scale of these obviously (even to us) depraved people, it’s hard to understand that we deserve punishment, too. But most people have grievances against others—if someone stole from you, or hurt your children, or if you were a victim of something fundamentally unjust, you would want justice; your sense of what is right would demand that the person at fault pay a penalty for wronging you. Every time we break God’s law, that’s an affront to God, and He demands justice, just as we do imperfectly on a smaller scale. If you’ve ever said in your heart, “That person should pay for what he did!” then you fundamentally agree with the idea of Hell, because the doctrine of Hell says somebody is going to pay for every sin, eventually….

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